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  • Writer's picturePretty Little Wanders

Cheddar Gorge: Why you should visit and what you need to know

Contrary to what the name might suggest, Cheddar Gorge is made of limestone and not cheese! Once you get over this disappointment, you’ll discover that a trip to the UK’s largest gorge has so much to offer. It makes for a scenic drive through limestone peaks, offers ample opportunity for hiking, rock climbing and exploring the surrounding Mendip Hills, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. You can also enjoy the quaint English village of Cheddar with its’ cafes, village shops and cheese tasting experiences.


Getting There

Train/Bus – The nearest train station is Weston-Super-Mare, bus 126 takes you to Cheddar village.

Car – This is the best option in my opinion, as it enables you to drive the picturesque road through the gorge and will give you the freedom and flexibility of exploring the surrounding area. It’s a good 3 hour drive from London and with an early start, perfectly doable as a day trip.


Parking

The majority of the parking is pay and display, but be aware that mobile reception here is mainly 3G and downloading/accessing the Just Park app can be cumbersome, so carry some change for the parking.

Cliff Road – This is nearest the village, has 134 spaces and is pay and display. You can park for 1, 2 or 4 hours, the maximum charge is £5.50.

Gorge and Caves – This is the official car park for the caves and has tourist information centres around it.

Cheddar Gorge – 190 spaces are spread out over a number of small car parks on the side of the road. These are mostly pay and display but there are a few spots you can park for free, these are used mainly by locals. Parking here is £5 per day.

car park along the road on cheddar gorge
One of the small car parks along the gorge, did you spot the goat?

Entrance

Cheddar Gorge is on a public road and therefore you do not need tickets to access the gorge. It is free to access for all.


Seeing the Gorge

At street level you can walk or drive through the gorge. The drive through the whole gorge is 14 miles long and requires caution as it has 22 bends and the road is also used by pedestrians – not for inexperienced drivers! But you will pass through stunning limestone pinnacles and hairpin bends that open up into long sweeping curves where the rocks are replaced by trees. As a tip, this is best seen from the passenger seat, so maybe take a partner and swap seats!

You can also walk along the road and the gorge is very impressive with limestone cliffs on either side, but as there isn’t a dedicated footpath, do be careful walking on the road.

The gorge can also be experienced by climbing up, you can take one of a number of hikes from the village itself or climb Jacob’s Ladder also starting at the village. See below for more information on these. The views from the top of the gorge are breath taking and definitely worth climbing up for.

Drive or walk through Cheddar Gorge

When to visit

Being primarily an outdoors attraction, summer would be the best time to visit, especially with the British weather being what it is. However, unsurprisingly this is also when the gorge is at it’s busiest and parking especially can be an issue. But to be fair any dry or partly sunny day at any time of year would be a good idea. I visited on a weekday in January and practically had the place to myself. In wet weather much of the hiking is difficult as the area can get very muddy and slippery.


Things to see and do


Cheddar Gorge walks

There are numerous lovely walks in this area and the Cheddar Gorge clifftop walk is probably the most iconic. It’s a circular walk that takes you to the top of the gorge, with panoramic views of the gorge, the Mendip Hills and village of Cheddar. The trail starts from across the road from the National Trust office. You can pick up a map from the NT office for £1 or download one from here. This is the walk I did and you will most likely see some of the herd of feral goats, which was definitely a highlight for me. It took me 3.5 hours for this walk, but I did spend a lot of time goat watching! You will need to be prepared with appropriate hiking boots, water and snacks as there are no facilities for these once the hike is commenced.

Length: 4 miles

Difficulty: Moderate (some steep climbs and lots of rocky paths)

Other popular walks include Blackdown Walk, Strawberry Line Bus Walk and Cheddar Resevoir Walk.

Jacob’s Ladder

You can climb the 274 steps that make up Jacob’s Ladder and get amazing views. It's a good alternative if you don't have the 3 hours to do the popular clifftop walk (which actually ends with descending Jacob's ladder. There is also a lookout tower at the top which at the time of writing was closed. It is currently free to climb Jacob’s ladder (though this was at one time chargeable).


Village of Cheddar

The quaint village of Cheddar is abundant in English charm with local artisan shops, riverside walks with mini waterfalls, a dam and a lake. There are plenty of shops selling everything from local cider, cheddar cheese to Christmas decorations as well as cute tea rooms, restaurants and pubs.


Cheddar Gorge Caves

Goughs Cave is a 500,000 year old cave that is one of the most popular and impressive, with 2 miles of chambers, atmospheric lighting and the sight of wheels of cheddar ageing on the shelves inside. This is also where the 10,000 year old Cheddar Man was excavated, Britain’s oldest complete skeleton.

This cave was closed at the time of writing due to Covid. However it is due to open in April 2022, so do check ahead if you want to visit here specifically.


Cafes

There’s a good selection of cafes, pubs and restaurants for a little village including: the picturesque Lion Rock Tea Rooms, ideal for the quintessential afternoon tea; Mousehole café for a sandwich, burger, pasties; Café Gorge for lunch and afternoon snacks. I opted for lunch at the Café Gorge, sitting outside with views of the dramatic gorge.


Cheese Tasting

Family-owned Cheddar Gorge Cheese Company is the place to learn how cheddar cheese is made. Currently they do VIP tours by appointment only. The original cheesemakers used caves in the limestone cliffs of Cheddar gorge as natural refrigerators. You’ll have the opportunity to sample same cave-aged cheddar.

Also pay a visit to the Original Cheddar Cheese Company who’s little shop is a cavern of cheese delights, with all flavours of cheddar from chilli to chive and cave-aged, chutneys, crackers and cider. A great place to pick up some edible souvenirs.


Wildlife

The gorge and surrounding area are a great place to see the free roaming herd of feral goats, often seen wandering around the car parks too! There’s also the opportunity to see Soay sheep, a rare breed native to Britain and often seen clinging to the cliff edges. Horseshoe bats can be spotted inside Cheddar caves and there’s a wide range of birdlife to be spotted outdoors including the Peregrine falcon, buzzards, kestrels and ravens. So bring your binoculars!

Soay sheep
Sheep with a view




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